Admission to what was until recently "America's best high school" (as named by U.S. News & World Report) is again under assault from multiple directions. Seven teachers at Fairfax County's acclaimed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology allege that the school's famously rigorous selection process has been eased, such that it's no longer enrolling the ablest and best-prepared pupils.
Recent high-profile complaints against TJ overlook widespread failings in American public education.
A federal civil rights complaint filed by a former Fairfax County School Board member asserts that entry criteria at TJ, as the school is known, in conjunction with the district's clumsy handling of "gifted and talented" education in earlier grades, rig the enrollment against black and Latino kids. At the same time, a law professor is pressing his claim that black students are favored over white students in the admissions process.
Any of these allegations could be true. But both complaints about TJ overlook two widespread failings in American public education that give rise to such grievances while also jeopardizing the nation's long-term economic competitiveness.
First, we've been neglecting the education of high-ability youngsters. States, districts, and individual schools, pressed by federal policies and metrics, have concentrated attention and resources on low-achieving and other "at-risk" youngsters, while paying scant heed to the fate of smart, eager pupils. Uncle Sam hasn't helped in recent years by zero-funding the one program intended to strengthen "gifted and talented," or G/T, education for poor and minority students. While struggling to raise...